Manhunt Review

It’s strange how some games catch the anti-videogame crowd’s eye and others seem to sneak completely beneath its radar. Rockstar’s popular Grand Theft Auto 3 generated all sorts of controversy with these people and yet Manhunt has barely raised a stir. The really odd thing about this is that Manhunt is a dark and violent game, and far more brutal than Grand Theft Auto 3 ever was - instead of a street thug you play a convicted murderer on a snuff film killing spree, after all. Go figure. Anyway, if game violence (and by violence I mean graphic and vicious violence) doesn’t disturb you then you’re in for an intense and original stealth action experience in Manhunt.

In Manhunt you play convicted murderer James Earl Cash. The lethal injection that you received at your execution turned out to be not so lethal, and you awaken in a room to the sound of a malevolent voice coming through a small earpiece. The voice belongs to Lionel Starkweather, a filmmaker who specializes in violent snuff films. If you’ll oblige him by making your way through an abandoned urban landscape you’ll be rewarded with your freedom. The catch? The area is patrolled by brutal thugs and gangs whose job it is to kill you on sight. If you’re to survive to the end, then you’ll need to dispatch the thugs first with whatever makeshift weapons you can find. And since Starkweather is filming the whole thing, he would really appreciate that you make your kills as brutal as possible.

Cash lies in wait.

You may be surprised to learn that a game with such a violent premise is primarily a stealth game, but that’s the case with Manhunt. The object for most of the game is to stay out of sight until you can sneak up behind a brute to make your kill. To help you accomplish this goal the game provides you with a radar and a status icon. The radar will show nearby thugs including their facing and relative awareness of your presence. The status icon will let you know if you are hidden by the shadows or are in a position to make a stealth kill. You aren’t endowed with a lot of Splinter Cell style moves that will allow you to hang from ledges or move along pipes; in Manhunt you’ll need to rely on sounds and shadows to elude your enemies. When in the shadows you are completely invisible to enemies, even if they are right in front of you, so many of the kills that you make will involve creating noise in order to lure a thug to your area and then stepping out from the shadows behind him to finish the deal. Bashing a weapon against a wall, kicking garbage cans, and throwing rocks will all draw the curiosity of a nearby hunter, and your speed advantage will ensure that you reach the shadows in time to lie in wait for his arrival.

Now here’s where some of the game’s more graphic violence comes into play. When you successfully sneak up behind an enemy you can go for a quick strike or charge your attack up for a few seconds to perform a particularly brutal kill. Not that the quick strikes are merciful mind you – we’re talking about cutting someone’s jugular with a shard of glass or asphyxiating them with a plastic bag here. To really drive the violence home, kills are portrayed in out of engine cutscenes to give you a more realistic view of your handiwork. The cutscenes are rendered to look as if they are being caught live on video, a not too pleasant reminder that some people out there view this sort of thing as entertainment. To top off the effect you’ll hear Starkweather’s reaction to your kill, with the most brutal ones eliciting a perverse glee from that sick puppy.

If you are discovered by a thug then you will be forced to resort to hand to hand combat with him. Fighting is a pretty simple exercise to control – click the left button for a quick but weak strike, click the right button for a slow and strong one, and move backwards to block. The fighting is primarily a question of timing, moving backwards when the thug strikes and hitting him back after he finishes his attack. If your timing is off you can be caught in a flurry of blows that will make it difficult for you to do anything other than take the hits. You’ll win most fights that you go into with a full health bar, but it can be difficult to win when you start off hurting and fighting two or more brutes at once is tantamount to suicide.